Tuesday Poem: Cynara, by Ernest Christopher Dowson

Non sum qualis eram bonæ sub Regno Cynaræ

[‘The days when Cynara was queen will not return for me.’ – CATULLUS]

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! Thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone, gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

Credit note: First published in 1896.

Tim says: Ernest Dowson is a minor and largely forgotten poet, yet he gave the English language the phrases “gone with the wind” (third stanza above), “days of wine and roses” (from “Vitae Summa Brevis”), and, on a more prosaic level, is the first recorded user of the word “soccer”.

Dowson’s poetry is an example of the doomed, late-Victorian romanticism and decadence most closely associated with the more famous Algernon Swinburne. The excellent Horizon Review has recently published an article by Katy Evans-Bush about Dowson and his place in the transition from Victorian sentimentalism to modernism.

But away, dull care! Begone, literary history! I like this poem for its over-the-topness, for its self-pity, and for that silly, and yet marvellously musical, line:

Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng…

9 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: Cynara, by Ernest Christopher Dowson

  1. Dowson was also a favourite of TE Lawrence. Lawrence quoted Dowson's poem: \”For, Lord, I was free of all Thy flowers, but I chose the world's sad roses, And that is why my feet are torn and mine eyes are blind with sweat,in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Isn't it interesting how tastes in poetry have changed?

  2. Thanks, Helen, Jennifer and Isabel.Helen, I agree – I'm pretty sure that is how I first heard of this poem, and I have a feeling it was from a reference in an SF or fantasy novel, but I can no longer remember which.Jennifer, I usually enjoy 19th century poetry when I happen across it, and the delightful absence of copyright restrictions lends it even more lustre!Isabel, I have read at least some Lawrence, but I had completely forgotten/never knew that – thank you!I often enjoy reading poetry which is written in a completely different style to that I might use. Herewith, \”A Passionate New Zealander Addresses Cynara\”, by T. Jones:Err, yeah, Cynara … so, er, yeah.I think that says all that needs to be said.

  3. \”Stomping at the Savoy\” I have, by the Ink Spots…I'll have to listen the lyrics carefully, then corrupt them…if a few of us sing them in public the new version will replace the old one as the true thing 🙂

  4. Hmm, I am a big fan of Horizon Review, but I have not seen Evans-Bush's article – will definitely seek that out and have a peruse. Love the lines, 'I cried for madder music and for stronger wine'.

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